This week’s guest post comes to us from the great Mikaela. She’s a writer at A Place Like Me In A Girl Like This, through which she shares her love of travel, languages, and literature with her readers. She frequently finds herself homesick for her books, and gets itchy feet when in one place for too long. I asked her to share a bit about her experiences teaching English as a Second Language in Korea, and she very kindly agreed to do so. Join her on her journey to everywhere on Facebook or Twitter.
I am sitting now at my desk, overlooking the schoolyard at my little rural school in Ulsan, South Korea. I remember vividly the excitement and apprehension I felt when I set out to be an ESL teacher here two years ago. I had great plans for imparting my knowledge of my mother tongue to the students at my elementary school, but little did I know just how much they would TEACH ME. Life as a teacher involves a lot of creativity, passion, and hard work, however, the rewards make it all worth it.
I have always loved languages and have studied (dabbled) with several. As a 27 year old teacher, you think I would have language study figured out. While I might have instinctively known these important aspects of language acquisition, it was my students who brought them to the surface.
1. Language learning should be fun.
Learning requires study, discipline, and hard work. However, it also needs an element of fun. This is especially true for young learners, but applies to adults as well. I think we ‘grown ups’ forget how to engage in learning in a spontaneous and entertaining way. Language is a necessary, useful part of life, but it’s anything but boring and lifeless, so why should learning it be boring and lifeless? After countless hours in the classroom I have found that my students retain more information when they are laughing and enjoying the learning process. Does this mean that all my lessons were mountains of giggles? No, it doesn’t. But I did endeavor to create a vivacious learning atmosphere encouraging the children to learn through games and activities.
2. Language learning should involve creativity.
With language we possess the ability to paint the skies, depict the depths of oceans, and bring history to life. Language is a living breathing organism, a beautiful phenomenon that I expound on in my Language Loves Me Series. There are grammatical rules that we must follow, but sometimes the liveliest and most enriching way to use a language is by bending the rules. During one of my classes, my students had to do a writing exercise to review for a test. I turned the exercise into a ‘game’ and had the students racing around the classroom to write down their sentences. They complained but all had smiles on their faces as they buzzed about. One little boy looked up at me and said, “Teacher, my hand is sad.” Even though what he meant to say was, “my hand is tired,” it beautifully illustrates how creativity with language use is one of the most enjoyable parts of learning.
3. Language learning is about building relationships.
Language is a bridge between peoples and cultures. It provides vast opportunities for lasting friendships and beautiful memories. There are other very practical uses for language learning such as travel and business, but it can be about so much more. Some of my favorite classroom moments are when my students are able to use their English skills to talk about their own lives and experiences. Although I will remember the food and sights of Korea when I leave, it will be the people I have met and relationships I have built that will linger longest in my memory.
4. Language learning is about reciprocity.
This is especially important for speakers of English as a first language. Being a native English speaker is a privilege. It’s a difficult language to master with it many rules and all the exceptions to the rules. To not have to work hard to speak a language that is highly prevalent in the global scene is a huge advantage. The main reason I have been able to live and teach in Korea is because of geography, being raised as a native English speaker.
I have lived in Korea for two years; am I fluent in Korean? No, I’m not. But have I put in time and effort to be able to communicate the basics? Yes, I have. Why learn a language that you might never use again outside of Korea? This is a valid question, and my answer is reciprocity. My students are required to learn English, I think it is only fair that I reciprocate and meet them part way by learning some Korean. In order to connect with them and build relationships it helps to show willingness to invest in their language and culture. If language is a bridge between people then the ideal scenario is when both parties can make the linguistic journey and meet in the middle.
Yes, I know. You are thinking these are all ridiculously OBVIOUS. (Siskia’s comment: speaking for myself, I don’t.) As I mentioned, I understood these deep down, but when bogged down by the daily routine of plans, report cards, and deadlines the simplicity and importance of these lessons can be lost or forgotten.
I want to thank my Korean students for bringing me back to what is important and making me remember why I fell in love with languages in the first place.
As a fellow language teacher and tutor who’s not too sure if she’s learned more than she’s taught, this guest post hit pretty close to home. Thank you so much for taking some time off your busy day to write it, Mikaela! 수고하셨습니다!
How about you, dear reader? Have you ever taught a language? Ever learned about learned, or received a valuable life lesson from an unexpected source? Please don’t doubt to share your thoughts and experiences, either through the comments or directly at Mikaela’s blog!